Selling Sawdust to a Lumber Mill – How to Be Persuasive

By Jeff Beals

We all know that certain kind of person who is so persuasive, he could sell sawdust to a lumber mill, charm wallpaper off a wall or convince a starving lion to embrace a vegan lifestyle.

Some people are so persuasive they can seemingly talk anybody into anything.  How do they do that?  It helps to possess good looks and charisma, but persuasive people tend to employ certain techniques, things we can all use to make our personal and professional lives more successful.

Back in the 1930s, Professor Alan Monroe of Purdue University married the art of presentation with the psychology of persuasion.

The result of his scholarly work became known as Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, a concept that is still pertinent for today’s professionals. The concept was originally intended to help orators structure persuasive speeches, but it’s equally applicable for a variety of other purposes – making a sales presentation, pitching a proposal or trying to talk your boss into making a certain decision.

Whether you’re addressing a large group or an audience of a single decision maker, keep Monroe in mind as you plot your sales presentations. Monroe’s Motivated Sequence advises presenters to build their case using five distinct steps completed in exact order.

First comes the attention-getter in which you introduce a problem by jolting the audience with something bold and unexpected—a story, quote, disturbing statistic or a big “bet-you-didn’t-know” statement.

Step two is need. This is where you prove the problem is significant and worthy of the listener’s attention. You also want to cast the need as something that won’t be solved without the right approach by the right person or organization.

Monroe’s third step is known as satisfaction. Here you prove that you have the solution to the previously mentioned problem.

In step four, visualization, you paint a picture of how wonderful life will look in the future if they accept and implement your solution. You also portray how terrible things will be if they ignore your recommendations.

Finally, in step five, you tell the audience what action they should take. This is the big finish, where you powerfully and motivationally tell them to go do it!

Think about the presentations, pitches and proposals you make.  Ask yourself how they fit into Monroe’s outline. Are you skipping a step or two?  Many salespersons start with step three, the solution, without making the case strongly enough that a solution is necessary in the first place. Structure your persuasive pitch in such a way that makes the targeted listener more acquiescent to what you are pitching. Make them yearn for your solution intensely before you tell them about it.

Your pitches and sales presentations must follow a logical format that feels right to the listener and syncs with their sense of order. The approach needs to build a persuasive case efficiently and effectively. Persuasive presentations must conform to human nature, which has remained static for ages. If you use human nature in your favor, the presentation is more likely to be successful. If you fight human nature, you’re engaging in futility.

As the late Zig Ziglar once said, “People do things for their reasons, not yours.” Focus on what the listener values during the presentation and take time to draw them in by asking clarifying questions and tying things back to what they told you during earlier communications.

In the end, being persuasive really isn’t a matter of “selling ice to an Eskimo” or “talking a bird out of a tree,” rather it’s about finding what people value and then using the right techniques to convince them that you’re capable of delivering that value.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to or call (402) 637-9300.

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